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Face of Defense: ‘Guardian Angel’ Airman Aids Ailing Korean War Vet

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. --

There are many who believe there is no such thing as coincidence; things happen for a reason and people enter their lives for a purpose.

If retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Ronald Price and Air Force Staff Sgt. Daniel Watkins, 627th Security Forces Squadron unit training manager, did not count themselves among those who believe in fate prior to their serendipitous meeting the morning of Jan. 10, it is likely they now do.

“I was the first person to interact with Lieutenant Colonel Price,” said Clarence Cavalier, 627th SFS Education and Training chief. “I originally misjudged Price as a homeless person who had somehow wandered onto base until I asked for some identification and he gave me his retired military ID card. He mentioned that he had previously had a stroke.”

After some time, Watkins walked into the office and Cavalier asked him to assist Price in finding his vehicle. Having known the staff sergeant since 2013, Cavalier knew he was the right airman for the task.

‘Watkins’ Character is Beyond Reproach’

“Watkins’ character is beyond reproach,” Cavalier said. “He is passionate in all he does and goes out of his way to help others regardless of who they are or what they need. He willingly and freely sacrifices much of his time to help those in need.

“Although there were two other individuals in the office, I asked Watkins if he could help assist Lieutenant Colonel Price,” Cavalier continued. “Watkins didn’t hesitate and began asking Price questions to better ascertain who he was, how he got on base, where he came from, where he needed to go and why he was here.”

Having a loved one who had suffered a stroke in the recent past, Watkins was uniquely suited to interact with and understand the needs of the 82-year-old Price.

“The reason I understood so well is because my dad had a stroke a year-and-a-half ago,” Watkins explained. “Automatically I had a little bit invested because I saw my dad in this man. I noticed every time I asked him a question, there was a gap between him understanding what I was saying and actually being able to form a response.”

Though none could have predicted it, Watkins and Price formed an instant connection. Watkins helped the older gentleman find his room at base lodging and to his surprise, learned that several people had escorted Price to the facility in the hours since he’d checked in at the Evergreen Inn.

“I couldn’t believe that so many people had found him, seen the state he was in, and simply dropped him off without a second thought,” Watkins said. “This man was clearly in need of more than a ride to his hotel.”

Who is Lieutenant Colonel Price?

Through patient questioning, Watkins discovered that Price was living in the Philippines and had traveled here for an appointment with Veterans Affairs in Hillsboro, Oregon. A phone call to the organization revealed that Price did not have an appointment or transportation; Watkins scheduled a visit for the following morning and promised that if transportation could not be arranged, he would escort Price to Oregon personally -- a prospect that seemed to please Price.

The pair dined on a meal of Price’s choosing that evening: Oreo cookies, beef jerky and Mountain Dew. Watkins delivered Price safely to his room for the night.

“When I knocked his door the next morning, Lieutenant Colonel Price was surprised I had not forgotten him,” Watkins said. “I told him of course I hadn’t.”

After the three-hour drive to Oregon, Watkins and Price arrived at the VA and were confronted with several harsh realities.

“The doctor informed me that Lieutenant Colonel Price had been there just five months before and had been perfectly fine,” Watkins said. “The doctor decided to do some bloodwork and have an MRI [magnetic resonance imaging] done, so if Lieutenant Colonel Price had had a stroke, they could see how bad it was and go from there in determining courses of treatment.

“Now, I’m wondering how long they will need Lieutenant Colonel Price to be in the area and where he is supposed to stay during that time,” Watkins continued. “Was I supposed to have him live with me and drive him back and forth? Lieutenant Colonel Price had nothing but the clothes on his back and desperately needed prolonged care.”

Helping a Veteran in Need

After elevating his concerns to the VA staff, Watkins was given several resources to explore, but in the end, none of them panned out. After dozens of phone calls and disappointments, he and Price were on the brink of driving back to JBLM for a last-ditch attempt at getting Price admitted to the emergency room at Madigan Army Medical Center.

“At this point, I was desperate,” Watkins said. “Being religious, I dropped to my knees and started praying for an answer.”

Watkins and Price were headed to the elevator in defeat when one of the nurses who attended Price waved them down with news that Price’s doctor had been talking with the staff social worker and wanted to meet with them.

“The doctor put in a note saying Lieutenant Colonel Price had to be admitted for at least 48 hours with the potential for a longer stay and testing,” Watkins said. “He assured me that if he needed rehabilitation for speech or his voice, they would find a clinic for Price to stay in until he was well enough to travel back home to the Philippines. I was so relieved -- this was the solution I had been searching for all day. My prayers had been answered.”

Watkins took Price to the VA hospital’s emergency room a short drive away. In minutes, Price was checked in and admitted. Price, who had taken to calling Watkins his guardian angel, encouraged the staff sergeant to begin the long journey home. After receiving assurances from the attending medical staff that Price wasn’t going anywhere, Watkins was satisfied that his newfound friend was in good hands.

“As I was about to leave I turned to Lieutenant Colonel Price and asked him if there was anything else he might need,” Watkins said. “His only request was a handshake. We both teared up a little bit and I thanked him for his service. I didn’t understand why it was so hard to say goodbye to this man who was basically a complete stranger.”

Acts of Kindness, Compassion

It didn’t take long for tales of Watkins’ acts of kindness and compassion to make the rounds among his peers and leadership back at JBLM and beyond. Though proud, Cavalier wasn’t surprised by Watkins’ actions in the least.

“No way, would others have done what Watkins did,” Cavalier said. “Others would have said Price was someone else’s problem and looked for an easy way out. I am not surprised by Watkins’ love and compassion for his fellow man and here’s why: belonging to the same faith, Watkins and I believe there are several reasons we are here, and one is to help our fellow man.”

Watkins’ own words proved Cavalier’s theory was spot-on.

“I’ve had many people call me a ‘Good Samaritan’ and tell me that I did something others wouldn’t do,” Watkins said. “For me, it’s about doing unto others as I would have them do unto me; it’s about helping those less fortunate and I just couldn’t turn Lieutenant Colonel Price away. I feel like I’ve known him all my life.”

Watkins remains in contact with Price and is pleased to report that Price is on the mend.